TALLAHASSEE - Three weeks away from the Florida primary, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is outstripping U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio among Republican voters in Rubio's home state, according to a new poll released Thursday.
The New York real-estate mogul holds a commanding 44-28 percent lead over Rubio among likely GOP primary voters, the Quinnipiac University poll found. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came in third with 12 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 7 percent and physician Ben Carson with 4 percent.
With 99 delegates in the March 15 winner-take-all primary, Florida is "the single biggest prize of the primary season," according to Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the poll.
"If Sen. Rubio can't win in his own home state, it is difficult to see how he can win elsewhere,” Brown said in a prepared statement accompanying the survey results Thursday morning.
The poll was conducted from Sunday to Wednesday, after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race Saturday night. Supporters of Bush ---considered an "establishment" candidate --- are under pressure to endorse Rubio and shun Trump, an outspoken populist who has never been elected to office and is running as an outsider.
Trump outshines his GOP opponents on almost every measure, according to the poll --- Republican primary voters of all ages favor Trump, along with voters who identify with the tea party. Men back Trump over Rubio 49-25 percent, while women favor Trump by 39-31 percent, the poll found.
Two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters who most want a candidate with strong leadership prefer the brash real-estate mogul, compared to 16 percent for Rubio.
Trump, who has taken positions such as banning Muslims from entering the country and building a wall on the Mexican border, does twice as well among white evangelicals as Cruz, who has been courting that constituency.
Rubio, however, leads Trump 39-29 percent among Republicans who most want someone who shares their values. Voters who want a candidate who is honest and trustworthy are split 30-30 percent between the pair.
Among GOP voters who care most about the economy and jobs, Trump overrides Rubio by 23 percentage points. Trump outshines Rubio by 10 percentage points among voters who cite terrorism as the most important issue and by 54 percentage points among those who say immigration is most important.
And the poll found Trump's negative ratings in Florida are low, with just 21 percent of likely Republican voters saying they would "definitely not support" the part-time Palm Beach County resident for the nomination, with 26 percent saying no to Cruz and 17 percent rejecting Rubio.
The Connecticut-based Quinnipiac frequently conducts polls in Florida and other states. The survey of 705 likely Florida Republican primary voters had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points. The pollsters will release a survey of likely Florida Democratic primary voters on Friday.